Workforce for the Great Pyramid

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,765
#1
So it seems now established that the workers were free (not slaves) and were well fed (including with meat)

However I have seem estimates ranging from 5 000 to 20 000 in terms of numbers of workers.... Questions:

1- What are the current best estimates for the workforce numbers (at peak and on average)
2- What are the current best estimates for Egypt's population at the time
3- How/where did the Egyptian find so many qualified (presumably) workers
4- How long did they on average work on the site ? What did they do after (and before)
5- Do we have other buildings in antiquity that would require a similar amount of effort for which we have good data in terms of workforce ?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,889
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#2
If you want the limits, I woulds say that Herodotus with 100,000 workers and Wier with 10,000 are the opposite limits.

Wier is the most particular one with his calculations based on the potential energy of the stone in the Great Pyramid [the potential energy, expressed in joule, is the energy that an object has got at a certain height; to carry that object there you need to consume that energy, regardless how you do]. In other words, the potential energy of a block at a height of 100mt is equal to 100mt multiplied the weight of the stone multiplied for "g", the factor of gravitational acceleration.

Then Wier, has considered the mean production of energy in joule of a common worker per day and the duration of the reign of Khufu [23 years, as for we know].

Now, Wier's method, even if scientific and fascinating, presents its own problems!

Personally [even if I know physics enough to follow his reasoning and check his calculations], I prefer an archaeological / historical approach:

Wier could be anyway near to reality ... they have found the village [town] where the workers lived. Archaeologists and Egyptologists have estimated that the capacity of this town was aroud 20,000 individuals. So we can forget about Herodotus and Wier has got anyway some troubles ... [why to build a wider village of what was necessary? Even if it's really probably that daily only about the 50% of the workers were in the construction site, but they had to enjoy periods of rest during the working season ...].

So, I stay with this limit numbers and probably on daily base the village wasn't always full. It's more difficult to estimate the activity of who lived near Giza [daily workers who kept on living in their homes].

[This is a nice summary, a quick read: Standing Tall: Egypt’s Great Pyramids].
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,320
Dispargum
#3
I am not an Egyptologist but I've heard that most of the work on the pyramids was done during the flood stage of the Nile when the peasants had nothing else to do. I've seen theories that one reason for building the pyramids was simply to give those idle peasants something to do because idle hands are the devil's workshop. This would imply that nearly everyone in the working class was employed in some capacity in pyramid building. When the river was high it was easier to float those blocks of limestone on rafts from the quarries to the building sites. I doubt they could build an entire pyramid in one flood season. The other two seasons of the Egyptian year were the planting season and the harvest season, so that's what they were doing when they weren't building pyramids. Egyptologists, feel free to correct any of this.

As far as other cultures, I would consider the megaliths like Stonehenge or the statues on Easter Island.
 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,765
#4
I am not an Egyptologist but I've heard that most of the work on the pyramids was done during the flood stage of the Nile when the peasants had nothing else to do. I've seen theories that one reason for building the pyramids was simply to give those idle peasants something to do because idle hands are the devil's workshop. This would imply that nearly everyone in the working class was employed in some capacity in pyramid building. When the river was high it was easier to float those blocks of limestone on rafts from the quarries to the building sites. I doubt they could build an entire pyramid in one flood season. The other two seasons of the Egyptian year were the planting season and the harvest season, so that's what they were doing when they weren't building pyramids. Egyptologists, feel free to correct any of this.

As far as other cultures, I would consider the megaliths like Stonehenge or the statues on Easter Island.
If there were indeed 20 000 and the population of egypt was circa 2 000 000 at the time (here again estimates vary widely) it would be 1% of total population which would probably mean 4 to 5% of working age males... so that would put a good dent on unemployment :)

however if this were done to occupy peasants it would also mean that the overwhelming majority would not be "qualified" builders and thus the quality would probably be poor
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,765
#5
Wier could be anyway near to reality ... they have found the village [town] where the workers lived. Archaeologists and Egyptologists have estimated that the capacity of this town was aroud 20,000 individuals. .
The question would then be : who lived there ?

If only workers, its one picture... If it is workers with their families, plus all kinds of other businesses (merchants, scribes , butchers, cooks, all kinds of services), actual pyramid workers in that town would be probably less than 5 000
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,889
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#6
There is only a detail to underline: that the "pyramid village" was a permanent settlement where about 5,000 professional workers lived with their families. The other workers [pondered estimates vary from 15,000 to 20,000 further workers] joined them when there was nothing to do in the fields, so for about 4 months.

I've found this interesting article by Joyce Tyldesley which presents an explanation of the conditions of the workers [and of their identity].
BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: The Private Lives of the Pyramid-builders
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,889
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#7
The question would then be : who lived there ?

If only workers, its one picture... If it is workers with their families, plus all kinds of other businesses (merchants, scribes , butchers, cooks, all kinds of services), actual pyramid workers in that town would be probably less than 5 000
Correct, I was going to post while you have posted.

The workers from the fields supplied the necessary missing workforce.
 
Mar 2019
1,653
Kansas
#8
however if this were done to occupy peasants it would also mean that the overwhelming majority would not be "qualified" builders and thus the quality would probably be poor
Villages used to send teams to work each year. Their job was simply to supply muscle. The only real expertise they would need is how to successfully move the stones.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,320
Dispargum
#9
If there were indeed 20 000 and the population of egypt was circa 2 000 000 at the time (here again estimates vary widely) it would be 1% of total population which would probably mean 4 to 5% of working age males... so that would put a good dent on unemployment :)

however if this were done to occupy peasants it would also mean that the overwhelming majority would not be "qualified" builders and thus the quality would probably be poor
Event today there's a lot of unskilled labor used on building sites. It doesn't take much skill to drag a block of stone from the river to the pyramid or to haul it up a ramp. The supervisors would have to know what they're doing, but the muscle doesn't have to be skilled. By working on a pyramid for several months each year, for several years in a row, even unskilled laborers would acquire some rudimentary engineering experience at how to drag, raise, and position a block of stone.

There would be a lot of workers employed on a pyramid project that did not work at the building site: quarry workers cutting the stones, metal workers making the stone-cutting tools, river boat men transporting the stones, logistics types bringing in the food and other supplies needed to sustain the 20,000 workers at the site. This would add a couple of percentage points to the 4-5% quoted above.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,889
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#10
Let's keep in mind that we are dealing with estimates, we've got the permanent settlements [and the room for further settlements, this time seasonal] to make some calculations. Then we've got the estimates about the Egyptian population around the middle of the Old Kingdom. They vary ... from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000. So if we want to be prudent, we can say that under Khufu lived about 1,500,000 Egyptians.
 

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